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       The Curse Catcher (The Complex Book 0), p.1

           Laura Thalassa
 
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The Curse Catcher (The Complex Book 0)


  Table of Contents

  Prologue

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Prologue

  When a nuclear holocaust forces Humans to evacuate their home planet, they search the galaxies far and wide looking for a new planet to call their own. But they don’t find a single planet—they find seven.

  In another region of the universe, Metas, a race of human-like beings with various supernatural abilities, are driven from their planet after a series of natural disasters decimate it. Three long centuries pass in deep space before Metas discover the Seldova solar system and the seven habitable planets within it. The only problem is that they’re already inhabited. By Humans.

  With each species fearful of their own extinction, Humans and Metas wage a brutal battle for control of the planets. Over twelve long years the war is fought. Lives are lost and enemies become many. But in the end and against all odds, Humans and Metas come to an uneasy truce.

  In the wake of their peace treaty, each species gains control of three separate planets. The seventh planet, Lorn, remains unclaimed by either Humans or Metas, and from it, the Complex is borne.

  The Complex, a domed community, is created to pave the way for a more peaceful existence between the two races. Metas and Humans are sent there to coexist amongst one another. But living under a domed community can only mean one thing for the two species.

  Chaos.

  Chapter 1

  There are three things a curse catcher needs to remember: One, every curse can be undone, it’s just a matter of time and patience.

  Two, be prepared for all situations. Cursed people can be mad, they can be in denial, they can be violent.

  And three, always, always remember to bring your vials.

  I stare down at the Human girl in front of me, none too impressed. She may look like me, a Meta, but her kind has been my enemy for most of my life.

  And now, thanks to the Complex, I’m forced to help her.

  “S-so you can help me? With the hex?” She shakes like a leaf, standing in the entranceway to her apartment.

  “Curse,” I correct, walking past her and into her unit. For all their intelligence, Humans know painfully little about Metas. I’m actually impressed this one thought to call me. Curse catchers like me are one of the lesser known Metas.

  While my client, Sher, closes the door, I head over to the panoramic window on the far side of her apartment, drawn by the view. The wealthiest residents get the choice units. Mine has a whopping zero windows.

  Outside the unit, I can make out bits of the Main City. From this high up in the housing dome, it actually looks kind of pretty.

  “So how did you end up cursed?” I ask, reluctantly turning away from the window.

  I set my bag down next to her couch and then make myself comfortable on it. A moment later Sher joins me.

  “I, um, turned down an Intra.”

  Ah, good ol’ Intra. Intra, short for Climintra, were the Human-Meta integrated police force. They patrolled the Complex, and for the most part, they were helpful. Except, of course, if you spurned them. I’d bet money she turned down a Meta. Not that many Humans even know where to buy a curse from. But a Meta would.

  Sher is still shaking, and a stab of pity runs through me. She’s no longer my enemy, not since the war ended, but right now she is a victim.

  “Alright,” I say, “well, no sense wasting more time. I’m going to fix this.”

  This is what I do as a curse catcher. I remove curses.

  “May I have your hand?” I ask.

  She extends her arm, palm up, to me. I clasp her hand between my own, my magic instantly flaring to life.

  Oh yeah, she has a doozy of a curse on her. I can feel it pulsing inside her. Taking a deep breath, I close my eyes, letting my magic see for me. Sher’s body is cast in darkness, lit only by the curse itself.

  The curse, a gaudy neon pink hue, hangs like a cloud low in her belly, hovering around her liver.

  Cursed with some sort of bad luck, based on the location. The liver is the seat of luck.

  As soon as I see the curse, I cast my power out. My magic gathers around it like a net, then corrals it up Sher’s body. The curse puts up a fight, indicating that the Meta who cast it was pretty powerful.

  I watch behind closed lids as the curse moves up Sher’s throat and into her mouth. “This next part is … a little weird,” I murmur.

  “Um, what do you mean?” she asks.

  Instead of answering, I lean forward. Behind my closed lids, I see Sher’s shadowy body lean back just a little.

  “Hold still,” I say, inching my face a bit closer to hers.

  She does as I ask, though I tell by the rigid set of her shoulders how tense she is.

  Parting my lips, I inhale deeply, drawing the curse out of her mouth and into me. The moment it enters, I wince at its bitterness.

  Ugh, why can’t curses taste like candy?

  Without any further prompting, the curse slides down my throat and into me, the sensation feels almost ticklish. It’s so subtle that you’d miss it if you didn’t know what to look for.

  I open my eyes. Sher looks back at me, her expression still frightened.

  “You’re no longer cursed,” I say, giving her what I hope is a reassuring smile.

  Not that my job is done. Until I can purge the curse from my own system, I’ll be cursed with whatever’s gotten Sher so worked up. Now that it’s inside of me, it seems to pulse with one single word—

  Sacrifice.

  Must be misreading it.

  “Oh, thank the gods.” Sher’s body deflates with her relief. It’s moments like this that make my job awesome.

  Now just to neutralize the curse …

  There are two parts to every curse removal. The first is imbibing the curse, essentially transferring it from the client’s body to mine. The second part consists of purging the curse. Just exhaling it out won’t do. A loose curse can and will reattach itself. Hence the need for neutralizing vials, containers spelled to hold and break apart a curse.

  Technically I could also simply leave the curse inside me. My magic will break down a curse in a manner of hours to days—depending on how strong the curse is. The only problem with this is that until my body purges the curse on its own, I am cursed. Not to mention that I get wickedly sick in the meantime; I like to think of it as a magical hangover without the initial high. Even now I can start to feel my skin prickling with sweat. So neutralizing vials it is.

  I reach into my bag to grab one of the glass vials I used.

  “So, how did you know you were cursed?” I ask Sher as I rummage through my things.

  “The Intra told me so himself,” she says. “When I turned him down, he said he’d hex—sorry, curse—me. That there was a beast living beneath the city that ate women, and he’d make sure its next victim was me.”

  I raise an eyebrow, my hand still groping for one of my neutralizing vials.

  “He did this all because you turned him down?” Metas might be hot-headed, but that’s way too extreme even for our tastes. Probably one of the
men that thought a Human woman owed him something because he took the time to look at her.

  Sher rubs her arms. “I think he thought that after threatening me, I’d reconsider.”

  I reassess Sher. She’s small and delicate, beautiful in a way that makes you think that if you dropped her, she’d shatter. But apparently Sher has one hell of a backbone. She didn’t cave into some asshole Intra, after all.

  “Well, you can always call me if this guy bothers you again.”

  She flashes me a grateful smile, then her eyes move to my bag. “Need some help?”

  I shake my head, even as I turn my full attention to finding my vials. Where are the little buggers?

  Lifting my bag, I shake it, waiting to hear glass clink against glass. The sound never comes.

  Now a wave of trepidation washes through me. I did pack the vials, didn’t I? I know better than to forget them. That’s the most important rule. And yet as my hand sweeps over where they should be for the fifth time and all I feel is the cloth interior of my messenger bag, I’m starting to think I did in fact forget them.

  Frantically I flip through my bag again.

  Where are you where are you where are you?

  My hand closes on nothing but empty air.

  Damnit. I did exactly what I’m not supposed to do—

  I forgot the vials.

  Chapter 2

  I shiver inside the housing dome’s fancy elevator, already feeling the sickness set in. All I have to do is get to my shop … which is a fifteen minute walk. I could probably get there in under ten minutes if I jogged. Ten minutes isn’t so bad.

  Until then … what had Sher said? That there was a beast living beneath the city that eats women?

  I sincerely hope that’s not true. There’s enough hellish surprises within the Complex as it is.

  The elevator slows to a stop, the doors opening.

  I exit the elevator, and I’m about to leave the housing dome when I see two Intra clad all in black exiting the fancy Flyer that’s idling right outside the building’s front doors.

  Shit. What are the chances that they were coming to capture Sher? Because if they were … I’m suddenly going to look like a much more appealing person to detain.

  I take a step back. Then another. One of them glances at me, and his features harden. He calls out to his buddy and points to me.

  Double shit.

  I spin on my heel and head back for the elevators, hoping one of them is still on the ground floor. But … no such luck. The closest one is on floor twelve. But at least it’s descending quickly.

  Behind me the doors open. I can hear the hard stomp of feet.

  I watch the floor numbers count down from twelve.

  Floor five …

  Floor four …

  Two sets of arms grab me. “Ma’am, you need to come with us.” Without any further warning, they begin to drag me through the dome’s lobby.

  “Hey!” I jerk against their holds. “What are you doing?” I demand. “You can’t just detain me.”

  Rather than answering, they march me out of the building.

  The other residents coming and going now pause to stare, but no one intervenes.

  Stars above, this is really happening.

  I can still hear the curse pulsing inside me—

  Sacrifice. Sacrifice. Sacrifice.

  The Intra throw me into their Flyer, the sleek aircraft barely big enough for three. As soon as my knees hit the seats, I scramble to my feet.

  “I demand to know why I’m being detained.”

  The Intra block my exit. “Sit down,” one of them says, his voice calm but final.

  I hesitate, remembering Sher’s words. If what she was told me is true, there’s a monster living beneath the Complex, and these Intra are going to deliver me to it.

  Sacrifice, sacrifice, sacrifice.

  Making a split-second decision, I lunge for the officers, determined to get past them.

  I don’t make it far.

  One of the Intra shouts, and the other grabs one of his holstered weapons and fires it at me.

  The last thing I see is a flash of blue, and then nothing at all.

  I wake just as the two Intra officers drag me out of the Flyer. My head rolls from one shoulder to the other as I shake off the effects of the segif, the weapon that knocked me unconscious.

  “What are you doing?” I say, my voice slurred as they drag me into a stairwell. I can’t move my muscles very well, and stars above, everything hurts.

  They head into the building they parked behind, then take me into an access stairwell, heading down the stairs as they whisper furiously to each other.

  “Please,” I try to make eye contact with one of them, “let me go. There’s been a mistake. I’m a curse catcher. There’s a curse on me …”

  One of the Intra gives me an annoyed look as I’m carted down the stairs. Eventually they leave the stairwell. I glance around at the sleek metal walls.

  I have no idea where I am, where they took me, but we are underground, exactly where Sher said the monster lived.

  Ahead of us is a metal breach door, the seal of it forming a giant “U” in the center. We’re heading straight towards it.

  My heart begins to pound a mile a minute, and suddenly I know Sher was telling the truth. There’s something awful on the other side of that door, something that shouldn’t be in this place. Something I’m being delivered to.

  And then, from somewhere far behind that door, a howl rises. As quickly as it comes, it dies away, replaced by angry snarling and the sound of metal denting.

  “Oh my God,” I whisper. What kind of being can crush metal?

  My struggles renew. I fight like a wild thing, desperate to get away. Anywhere but here.

  The men tighten their grips, but they don’t let me go.

  A tear leaks out.

  I’m going to die. All because I forgot my stupid vials.

  One of the men lets me go to punch in a code on the screech set next to the door.

  “Hurry,” the Intra at my side says to his partner, a thread of fear in his voice.

  “You think I’m trying to draw this out?” his partner says, tapping on the screen as fast as he can.

  Seconds later, the breach door releases with a hiss, and then, inch by agonizing inch, it opens.

  Now the snarls become infinitely louder, raising the hairs on my arms.

  The man holding me drags me forward, tossing me inside. I stumble to my knees, my hands catching my fall. I appear to be in an entryway of sorts, which tees off into two hallways. And somewhere beyond those hallways …

  Another roar tears through the air.

  It only takes a second for me to get back on my feet and run for that opening. The Intra who threw me in draws his weapon, aiming it at me. “Stay where you are.”

  The sight of his segif trained on my chest stops me up short. I don’t know why it does, I’m surely going to die anyway. But the thought of being knocked out in this place is more frightening to me than being conscious.

  “Just kill me,” I beg him. At this point, that’s a better fate than being eaten alive.

  He shakes his head. “Then we’d have to find another woman.”

  I feel my expression crumble.

  His partner hits several more buttons on the screen, and then, all at once the breach door slams shut with a hiss, the locks engaging a split second later. I feel the curse I held inside me this entire time dissipate now that it’s been fulfilled. But before it’s gone completely, I hear one last phantom echo of it move through me.

  Sacrifice.

  Chapter 3

  I stare at the breach door. There’s not even a screen to access on this side of it. Just a smooth expanse
of metal.

  That doesn’t stop me from falling on the door a second later, my fingers desperately prying at the seams of it. When that doesn’t work, I begin pounding on the chrome surface.

  “Help! Please, don’t leave me!”

  No one answers my calls. Because no one’s coming. They’re all going.

  I can still hear the beast howling, its cries raising the hair on my arms.

  I take one shaky step back, then another, as my situation settles on my shoulders.

  Trapped. With a monster. Who’s going to devour me.

  My legs just sort of give out, my knees banging into the ground. I rub my eyes with the palms of my hands.

  You had one job, Skylar.

  One. Job.

  And you effed it up cataclysmically.

  I release a shuddering breath.

  The monster’s cries cut off suddenly, as does the sound of metal denting.

  I nearly piss myself right then and there.

  It knows I’m here.

  I wipe my eyes. Pity is a luxury I just used up. If I want to live, I’m going to need to stop acting like bait.

  Shakily, I push myself to my feet and turn around. Just like the housing dome, the walls here are white, but unlike the plain cement floor that covers most of the Complex, the floor here is made of some polished stone. Something obviously imported.

  Not exactly the kind of embellishment I’d expect in a monster’s prison.

  The floors and walls are clean, and I don’t know why that’s shocking, considering how new the Complex is, but I was imagining this place to be scattered with bones.

  Tentatively, I creep towards the hallways at the end of the entryway. When I get to them, I peer down each. They both appear to branch off into even more hallways.

  Somewhere down these passages, that thing is waiting for me. I could just stay here, right at the entrance, and hope that someone else will come retrieve me. But who am I kidding? The Intra left me here. No one’s coming for me.

 
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